IT was the end of the era as the 3rd Battalion the Merican Regiment marched through the streets of Burton for the final time.
Hundreds of people lined the streets of the town to show their backing for the troops – known as The Staffords – as they paraded as a ‘thank you’ to the public before they head into the pages of history.
The battalion is being broken up as part of Army restructuring and the troops will be reintegrated into the Mercian Regiment.
After about 250 troops completed a successful tour of duty in Afghanistan, the battalion was invited to march through Burton to give the public the opportunity to show their support and appreciation.
The response of the public was spine tingling as people clapped and cheered and shouts of “we are so proud” rung out from the crowd as Deputy Lieutenant and Colonel of the Regiment’s Representative, Colonel Adrian Walton, took their salute in High Street,
Jim Faux, the battalion’s second in command, said that this day was “special’, especially for the members of the regiment who come from the town.
He said: “The parade through Burton was a proud moment for all of the members of the battalion.
“It is a milestone for the men who have been on a two-year rotation which has seen them deployed to Afghanistan and now returned home.
“It is a special moment for all of us as it allows us to say ‘thank you’ to all the people of Burton who have supported us, sent us parcels and messages while we are abroad serving our country.
“It also allows us to say goodbye to the battalion in our own way by coming through Burton with our heads held high for the final time as 3rd Mercian.
“But this is not the end, all of these men will form two larger battalions who will still represent Burton honour and pride.
“This is an important tradition and not one of the men take it lightly and enjoy all of the support they receive.
“It is deeply moving and poignant for us all and we cannot thank the people of Burton enough for the show of support.”
The soldiers were on a leg of a tour of regional town centres in the run-up to Armed Forces day this Saturday.
Burton’s MP Andrew Griffiths took great pride in watching the ‘heroes’ parade through the town.
He said: “I am both proud and humble of every single one of these soldiers and what they do for this country.
“They deserve all the praise that they get and on behalf of Burton thank them for their outstanding efforts.
“Burtonians were out in force to show their support and they did the town proud in welcoming home their heroes.”
Julian Mott, leader of East Staffordshire Borough Council, said: “It was a glorious day that showed Burton off at its best.
“These men go to places nobody wants to go and fight for Queen and country. They do us all proud and do a fantastic job.”
The parade was led by Commanding Officer of 3rd Merican, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Davies.
A military band also accompanied the soldiers.
The battalion the enjoyed a reception at Burton Town Hall, where soldiers from the area were presented with their operational service medals for Afghanistan.
AN East Staffordshie soldier said that he felt ‘proud’ being able to march through the town.
Lance Corporal Colby Jensen-Watts, 20, of Kings Bromley, took time out before the march to speak to the Mail.
Lance Cpl Jensen-Watts said: “The first time I have done one of these types of parades in Burton so it is great experience for me.
“It is great to be able to come back to the town and see all the crowds and be able to say thank you for all the support.
“It is a big thing for all the lads and a proud moment.”
The lance corporal is one of four brother who have all embarked on careers in the army.
When 3rd Mercian first went to Afghanistan, they had to contend with blistering summer heat, plus the demands of an active insurgency and the need to train the Afghan security forces.
This time, much of the tour was conducted during a bitterly cold winter, while the Afghan National Police (ANP) were left to take the lead during operations, supported by the Mercians.
There were fewer pitched battles with the Taliban this time, as the insurgents preferred to focus their attacks on Afghan security forces rather than risk open combat with the disciplined 3 Mercians.